It will soon have been a month since thousands of people began to demonstrate in the Santiago de Chile Metro. The ostensible reason for the demonstrations was an increase in public transit ticket prices which has been successive since 2007, increasing 3 times in 2018 alone. The protests quickly grew out of control and became violent, leaving 22 dead and more than 2,200 injured.

The Chilean economy and the public transport price hike

Chile is a country that has been doing relatively well economically, outpacing its neighboring countries in South America… however,  we must keep in mind that the Chilean system is heavily neoliberal with a strong emphasis on the private sector even in basic areas such as health and education. In other words, public universal healthcare does not exist, and state benefits are very limited, meanwhile special medical treatments and health insurance come at a very high cost. Along the same lines, the country has an educational system where similar to that of the United States, where prohibitively high tuition costs force students to borrow from banks who they spend decades trying to repay.

Chile is a country that, like most South American countries, economically depends on raw materials. Copper is particularly important, as Chile is the world’s leading exporter of this strategic resource. This resource is so important that even the Chilean Armed Forces’ budget depends on it. Despite the abundance of resources, the country’s income has not been used for the benefit of the population, and has not resulted in any kind of safety net or social rights.

On the subject of the protests, it should be noted that they began peacefully, mostly lead by young people demonstrating against the transport price hike by skipping tickets. Ironically, this increase in price was part of a “tax modernization” scheme planned by the government. The government boasts about its economic freedoms claiming to have set as an example for the liberal politicians of the region, but the opposition points out that these freedoms have only benefited the wealthy.

With the new tax scheme depending on the transport hike,  problems were bound to arise. The idea behind the new increased was to charge more for travel at peak hours when the majority  of the population is commuting to work. The Minister of Economy, Juan Andrés Fontaine, made a statement regarding the fare increase, saying “If you want to pay less get up earlier”. This comment led to massive backlash against the government, as the minister’s ill-advised words were seen as a sign of disrespect.

During the first days Carabineros de Chile began to strong-arm people out of the subway who hadn’t paid, leading to extensive injuries among young people. This did nothing but fan the flames and cause the protests to grow in cities across the country, eventually erupting in the largest protest movement in the last 30 years and a state of emergency being declared in numerous places.

The protests have become distorted

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Chile, prompting the government to respond violently. This only worsened the mood throughout the country, causing an increase in violence from the other side respectively. On top of this, various  left wing and anti-system groups began to organize attacks on security forces. These groups began to destroy public resources and even subway lines, leading to 20 being burned and 41 suffering related injuries. Seperatist indigenous groups have also been supported by the left, as evidenced in the Mapuche indigenous flag appearing at demonstrations. This flag is not recognized by the Chilean State.

The riots went further and began to destroy statues and public figures of Chile’s Spanish past in acts of hispanophobia, wich naturally offended many people who maintains linguistic, cultural and ethnic ties with Spain. Eventually, organized groups of militants began assaulting people, looting homes, hotels, churches, shops and offices.

Following these events, the government decided to cancel the price increase and redoubled its efforts to try to contain the disturbances. They even went as far as to say that Chile is “at war against a powerful enemy.”

The authorities declared a “curfew” but the population failed to comply, taking to the streets at all hours. The repression by security forces became exacerbated and viralized through videos on social networks showcasing the states shameless excessive aggression.

The protesters, however, have distorted what was initially a properly motivated movement pushing for access to such basic needs as education and health, taking a turn toward violence and destruction. Neighbors and civilians started to organize to try to stop the destruction of their property and public property, while some protesters expelled the Communist Party when it tried to join in, according to posts on social media networks.

This new course of organized violence backfired somewhat, creating an image destruction and chaos caused by thugs and leftist groups. The direct consequence of this was the demonstrations intensity diminishing, while ideologically motivated groups took more control over the movement in the streets.

As was the case in Bolivia where it is rumored that the United States and its allies were behind the financing and organization of street protests to expel Evo Morales, in Chile, some have argued that Cuba and Venezuela are providing financial incentives to destabilize the Chilean government.

Although interventions are often actually verifiable, it is worth noting that such claims have often served as an excuse to avoid recognizing the government’s real deficiencies and errors.

In parallel with Bolivia, the Chilean armed forces have refused to comply with President Piñera’s orders to repress the demonstrations, arguing (according to rumors) that “the Armed Forces will not take to the streets again , since this problem is political and the solution must be political. ”

Change of constitution

The Chilean Communist Party has demanded Piñera’s resignation. However, other opposition parties have instead demanded a change of the constitution, given that the current one was inherited from the Pinochet regime. The Chilean government has agreed to make a constitutional change with the input of the population. The government intends to establish a Constituent Assembly which will make numerous economic and social changes; the body will be composed of diverse parties, as the people have demanded that it have a “plurinational” character where there are quotas and seats designated for women and indigenous people. The government and the opposition have agreed that process to draft a new constitution will take place in April 2020.

Gonzalo Collado De Giovannini
Argentinian Spanish-Italian Analyst, specialist in Geopolitics, International Security and Global Affairs. Twitter: @GonzaloCDG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


October 2023